A casual discussion of Mississippi’s official state symbols in the classroom usually will produce some humorous answers. For example, the “mosquito” is the state insect, or perhaps it’s the fire ant! Rather than identifying the large-mouth bass as the state fish, students often will name the catfish and will only most reluctantly acquiesce when corrected. For years, the catfish has been favorite “eating” of Mississippians, many of whom caught them right out of a river or pond or bought them fresh from a local fisherman. Today, however, the humble catfish has become big business and big money. In this lesson, students will explore the growth of this multi-million dollar industry and will examine connections between a plate of golden fried catfish and the geographic issue of globalization.
Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1 - 4.
Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12.
MATERIALS AND EQUIPMENT
- Mississippi History Now article, “Catfish Farming in Mississippi”
- Unlined letter-sized paper, colored pencils, markers
- County outline map of Mississippi
- calculate the relationship of the state’s catfish industry to that of the United States;
- construct and interpret a map indicating counties where there is commercial catfish farming;
- discover reasons for the beginning of the catfish industry in the state;
- explain changes in the growing, harvesting, processing, and marketing of the catfish product over the years;
- identify current problems and concerns in the industry.
OPENING THE LESSON
Give students a chance to tell what they know about catfish. Show a good clear picture of the fish and let students draw an outline of it on a piece of unlined paper. Label it “Fishing For Facts.” Ask students to speculate on the role of the catfish industry in Mississippi’s overall economy and to write down their thinking in their notes. Ask them to read the first paragraph of the Mississippi History Now article, “Catfish Farming in Mississippi,” and compare the information with their “guesses.” Students may have no idea of the role played by this industry in the state’s economy.
DEVELOPING THE LESSON
- After reading the first section of the article, students will construct a chart with the following headings: POUNDS PRODUCED; ACREAGE; VALUE. In the left margin write United States and below that, Mississippi. Using the article and other resources students will complete the chart to indicate how Mississippi’s catfish industry relates to that of the whole nation. (NOTE: Supply the figure of approximately $200-300 million as the annual value of a crop of Mississippi catfish as published by the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station Bulletin, Summer, 1999, Vol. 62, #3.)
As students finish the exercise, allow them to discuss what they have learned. Ask them to write the information creatively on their “Fishing for Facts” catfish outlines and to take them home to share with their families. Ask them to return with a family recipe, fishing story, the name of a favorite “fish house,” or a catfish advertisement to share with the class.
- Distribute a county outline map of the state. After researching where catfish farms are located, students will label the counties where the fish is produced commercially. They may wish to use colors to make the map more attractive and clear. Let them discuss what patterns they can see from their maps and speculate about their causes.
(NOTE: The MAFES Bulletin referenced above indicates that most of Mississippi’s catfish farms are located in the following counties: Humphreys, Sunflower, Leflore, Washington, Yazoo, Sharkey, Issaquena, Lowndes, Noxubee, and Kemper.)
- Ask students to read the section Growing the Catfish in the Mississippi History Now article on catfish, looking especially for reasons why Mississippians would begin to raise large amounts of catfish to sell. Ask them to stop reading when they find the answer and to make a web or bubble map showing what they have learned. Ask them to briefly share their answers aloud.
- Divide the class into groups; assign each group one aspect of the catfish farming industry to research. Each group will prepare an oral presentation with a visual depicting their information. Topics should include raising the catfish, harvesting, processing, marketing, and current issues and concerns. As applicable, students should identify ways the industry has changed as new technologies were developed. If additional groups are needed, they could be assigned to collect some songs about the catfish and/or to bring examples of the marketing/advertising pieces prepared for the industry.
- As the reports are given, students should add information to their notes entitled, “An Overview of the Catfish Industry.” They can either write the facts or draw pictures of what is being described. As the section regarding current issues and concerns is discussed, help students understand the concept of globalization and to examine both sides of the issue.
- Teacher may wish to ask some quiz questions when the reports are concluded or have the students turn in their notes for a check.
- At some point during the lesson or at the end, allow students time to share the recipes, stories, etc. that they brought from home.
CONCLUDING THE LESSON
- Provide another “fish” outline for students (or have them draw one) on which questions about the lesson are printed for them to answer OR ask students to write at least 10 facts that they have learned about the catfish industry in Mississippi.
- In small groups or individually, have students prepare an advertisement to market Mississippi farm-raised catfish. This could take the form of a tee-shirt, a flyer, a radio spot, etc.
ASSESSING STUDENT LEARNING
- Participation in class discussions and group work
- Completion of Chart
- “Fishing For Facts” outlines
- County mapping activity
- Participation in class presentation
EXTENDING THE LESSON
- A visit to a catfish farm is an excellent way to understand the way technology is used in the industry. Students will be amazed at how computers are used to determine how much food and air are needed in each pond, etc. If a visit is not possible, perhaps a representative could visit the classroom and bring pictures.
- Ask the school cafeteria to serve a catfish lunch during the time of your study. Decorate the cafeteria with your “Fishing For Facts” outlines.
- Allow students who have attended the World Catfish Festival held yearly in Belzoni, Mississippi, to share their experiences.
- The Catfish Institute at https://www.uscatfish.com/ has links to many of the trade and marketing agencies associated with the industry.
- If your school has a subscription to MAPS101.com, access the February 20, 2004 Geography In he News article entitled “A Cat Fight: International Trade Dispute over Catfish” by Professor Neal Lineback.